Rick Perry staffs campaign with trusted Texas confidants

September 2, 2011

You can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps.

That adage couldn’t be more true for presidential candidates, which is why Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s announcement Friday of his senior campaign staff is so revealing.

The newly minted Republican candidate named eight key members to his presidential campaign staff, who will join a handful of top political advisers. All of them have spent years, some of them decades, in the trenches with Perry. There is no new face.

Many top-tier White House aspirants populate their campaigns with Washington Beltway veterans who boast national seasoning but lack long-standing ties to the candidate. But in assembling his team, Perry is proving he’s not that kind of presidential candidate.

“Were not running a traditional campaign,” said David Carney, who has been Perry’s political wizard since his 1998 run for lieutenant governor and will serve as the 2012 campaign’s chief strategist.

What Perry inner circle lacks in experience on presidential campaigns, it makes up for with intense loyalty to the candidate and trust within the team.

Perry’s critics said this underscores the governor’s long-established control over his internal strategy and information flow.

But other Republican strategists said having a close-knit group of advisers who know the candidate and believe in him is critical. For one, deep loyalty sometimes prevents the leaks and internal battles that can plague campaigns.

“The most successful presidential campaigns are the ones that start out with a loyal group of folks and then are able to learn quickly,” said Matthew Dowd, a Texas-based consultant who was chief strategist to President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign.

“Go look at all of them — Reagan’s close group, Nixon’s, Carter’s, George W. Bush’s,” Dowd said. “The ones that aren’t as successful are the ones that go out and hire a bunch of national guns. What you need are people personally invested in that person and in that race. That is an asset Perry has, as opposed to a liability.”

On overall strategy, the Perry triumvirate is made up of three close confidants: Carney, who lives in New Hampshire but has been making frequent trips to the campaign’s Austin headquarters; policy and strategy director Deirdre Delisi, the governor’s former chief of staff and most recently chairwoman of the Texas Transportation Commission, and communications director Ray Sullivan, a longtime Perry adviser who had been chief of staff in the governor’s office until last month.

Rob Johnson, who managed Perry’s 2010 reelection campaign and had been a senior adviser in the governor’s office, will serve as campaign manager, making day-to-day decisions about the campaign. Wayne Hamilton, a past executive director of the Republican Party of Texas who ran Perry’s 2003, 2007 and 2011 inaugurations, will serve as political director.

Meanwhile, Mark Miner, a veteran Republican aide who served as Perry’s communications director since 2009, will be the national press secretary. Eric Bearse, a longtime speechwriter and communications adviser to the governor, will be deputy communications director. Perry’s communications shop also includes traveling press secretary Robert Black, who served as Perry’s gubernatorial press secretary and communications director between 2003 and 2008; and state press director Katherine Cesinger, who has been on Perry’s staff for seven years, most recently as his press secretary.

David Weeks, Perry’s longtime friend and media consultant, will oversee the campaign’s media and advertising strategy. Michael Baselice, Perry’s longtime pollster, will continue as pollster for the presidential campaign. In campaign strategy, Perry also regularly consults his wife, Anita, and his close friend, Cliff Johnson, who served in the state House with Perry and now is a lobbyist in Texas.

“The individuals heading up this campaign are professional, each of them has extensive experience in running successful campaigns, and I look forward to working closely with this talented team of experts to take our message to the people of this country and get America working again,” Perry said in a statement.

The clearest contrast with Perry’s campaign team may be Tim Pawlenty’s. The former Minnesota governor staffed his campaign almost entirely with veteran Washington hands who had not worked with Pawlenty in his Minnesota races or in the governor’s office. His skilled advisers ran a textbook campaign, but Republican voters didn’t seem interested. Pawlenty dropped out of the race Aug. 14 following a distant third-place finish in the Iowa straw poll.

The test for Perry’s team will be whether they quickly and easily make the leap from Texas politics to presidential politics.

“It’s like football,” Dowd said. “He may be some great quarterback in college or high school, but the plays move a lot faster in the NFL. Some people can’t make the turn. My expectation having the Perry folks, I think they’ll be able to make the turn. They learn quickly, they are not arrogant and they’re loyal.”

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